More Than A Name, Tennys Goes From Bar To A.O. Star
Sandgren plays Marterer for fourth-round spot in Melbourne
Sandgren sat in a bar just a little over two weeks after he lost in the first round of qualifying at the 2016 US Open, and watched in amazement as Wawrinka hoisted his third Grand Slam trophy.
“I was having a few beers. I was watching the tennis,” Sandgren, who at the time had never played a Grand Slam championship main draw, told the press after his second-round match. “That's insane, an inhuman level of tennis.”
The 26-year-old’s viewpoint was far different Thursday on Margaret Court Arena, where he broke Wawrinka five times — without getting broken himself — to eliminate the ninth seed, setting up an intriguing third-round matchup.
Sandgren is the World No. 97 and his next opponent, Maximilian Marterer, is No. 94 in the ATP Rankings. Before the week, neither player had won a Grand Slam match. The German Marterer was 0-14 at the tour level.
Both competitors have made their mark on the ATP Challenger Tour, winning five (Marterer) and three (Sandgren) titles on the circuit, respectively. But oddly enough, they have never played one another.
“[We] rode the elevator up together. Gave each other a little smile. He had a big win today,” Sandgren said, after defeating Wawrinka. “I don't know him particularly well. I know he's a lefty. He hits the hell out of the ball on his forehand. He's obviously playing good tennis. He's in the third round of a slam. It will be fun.”
Opportunities of a lifetime tend to be fun. The two lowest-ranked players remaining will play the biggest match of their lives Saturday — the winner will be guaranteed at least $240,000 in prize money and 180 ATP Rankings points.
Prior to this week, the 22-year-old Marterer had earned a combined $322,231 in singles and doubles since capturing his first prize-money check at an ATP Challenger Tour event in Furth, Germany aged 16. The 26-year-old Sandgren’s total was $488,735, with his first winnings also coming at 16, at an ITF Pro Circuit tournament in New York.
“When you play Futures and Challengers for three, four years, you're playing in obscurity, there's not a lot of attention,” Sandgren said. “You play the game because you like to play. You play the game because you enjoy the journey.”
Things aren’t all that different for Sandgren ahead of his match against Marterer, than they were less than a year ago, before he played his first Grand Slam main draw match.
At an ATP Challenger Tour stop in Savannah, Georgia, Sandgren clinched the USTA's Roland Garros wild card after the quarter-finals. And the morning of the final, which he would win, the former Tennessee player rushed to take an exam for an online Chinese and Japanese politics class to work toward his degree. Sandgren left the university after two years to turn pro in 2011.
So it should be no surprise that the day before the biggest match of his life, Sandgren told ATPWorldTour.com that “I’ll probably look at the online lecture this evening,” for an information science class he is taking.
Did he ever dream when signing up for the course that he would beat the same player he marvelled at on the television in the second round of a major and then study a lecture the next day?
“No, I sure didn’t.”
Does his professor know that one of his students is playing in the third round of the Australian Open?
“I don’t think so.”
But based on his performance this week, more fans will get to know Sandgren for his play rather than his name. Tennys was named after his paternal great grandfather (born in 1896) from Sweden, not the sport he plays. It took an unusually long seven questions in his post-match press conference Thursday to touch the subject, and for good reason.
Sandgren is in unchartered territory in Melbourne, where he has attempted to qualify in each of the past five years (winning a total of two matches).
“When that happens, you're thinking a third round of a Slam. I've never played a three-out-of-five-set match. How am I going to get to the third round of a Slam?” Sandgren told reporters after beating Wawrinka. “It's one day at a time, completing each step of the process. Maybe at that point you could look and see, I'm in the second round of a Slam, like I was today… After the match, I'm like, ‘Wow, I'm in the third round of a slam. That's awesome’.
“I'll have a great opportunity on Saturday. It will be a lot of fun. It will be a good battle, a good contest. We'll see how it goes."